When You Reach Me

When You Reach Me by Rebecca SteadWhen You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Publisher: Yearling
Number of pages: 208
My copy: paperback, bought from Fully Booked

Four mysterious letters change Miranda’s world forever.

By sixth grade, Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighborhood. They know where it’s safe to go, like the local grocery store, and they know whom to avoid, like the crazy guy on the corner.

But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a new kid for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The apartment key that Miranda’s mom keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then Miranda finds a mysterious note scrawled on a tiny slip of paper:

I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.
I must ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter.

The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realizes that whoever is leaving them knows all about her, including things that have not even happened yet. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she’s too late.

* * *

I’ve wanted to read When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead for the longest time but for some reason, I never got around to reading it. Or getting myself a copy. There was a time when I saw a hardcover copy of this book on sale, but I let it go thinking I could find it again and go back for it. But alas, it was gone. And so I was on the lookout for another sale copy of this it proved elusive, until I finally got a full-price, brand new copy using one of my Fully Booked gift certificates.

I’ve heard really good stuff about When You Reach Me and the thing is, it’s best not to be spoiled about the elements of the story. So I’ll try not to be spoilery! :) It’s 1979, and Miranda and her best friend Sal knew everything about their New York City neighborhood. She lived a pretty normal life, until Sal got punched on their way home for no reason. Miranda’s life starts to come undone at this point, and it doesn’t help that she received some strange letters from someone who needs her help. As the letters come, she realized that whoever wrote the letter knew many things about her, things that other people don’t and shouldn’t know. She wished she could just ignore them, but what if the notes are true, and only she can stop someone from dying?

I loved Miranda’s voice from the very start — she reminds me of those characters I loved reading as a child. She’s a kid, but she’s also very mature and I liked how she viewed the world and her family and the conversations she had with them. I liked how you know from the start that this isn’t a normal middle grade novel, and it wasn’t even before I really discovered the mystery in it. The fact that Miranda’s mom is joining a game show so they could win $20,000 is already a clue that this book is different, and I knew I would like this book even before I was halfway done.

There’s a sci-fi element in this book that built the mystery up, and I have to admit that it got me a bit confused at first. I was really constantly guessing about who sent the letters and I was kind of glad that my hunch wasn’t correct, because I was really surprised at how it all ended up. I liked the conversations of the characters of the book even if they’re not the type of things I talked about when I was their age.

This book also made me curious about A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, which I never read. I know, it seems like required reading for so many kids, but it skipped me! The only L’Engle book I read when I was younger was Meet the Austins, which is connected to the characters there, I think? Anyway, even if I never read the book, I liked how it was very anchored to that, and it gives for additional reading for kids (and adults) who end up really liking When You Reach Me.

I really enjoyed reading this book, and I think my sci-fi loving friends will appreciate this too. Oh, this is a giveaway, but if you liked the Japanese animated movie The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and the TV series Doctor Who, then I’m pretty sure you’d like this book too (and vice versa). :)

Rating: [rating=4]

Required Reading: July

Other reviews:
Book Harbinger

The Enemy

The Enemy by Charlie HigsonThe Enemy by Charlie Higson
The Enemy # 1
Publisher: Hyperion Books
Number of pages: 448
My copy: hardbound, borrowed from Aaron

In the wake of a devastating disease, everyone sixteen and older is either dead or a decomposing, brainless creature with a ravenous appetite for flesh. Teens have barricaded themselves in buildings throughout London and venture outside only when they need to scavenge for food. The group of kids living a Waitrose supermarket is beginning to run out of options. When a mysterious traveler arrives and offers them safe haven at Buckingham Palace, they begin a harrowing journey across London. But their fight is far from over–the threat from within the palace is as real as the one outside it.

* * *

It’s been a long time since I last read a zombie book, so I knew I was in for a bit of an adjustment when I decided to read my stocked zombie books for my February challenge. The Enemy by Charlie Higson has been languishing on my shelf since 2010, after my friend Aaron lent it to me for my YA-D2 challenge for that year. Obviously I never read it for that, and I don’t think I would have unearthed this now if I didn’t choose to read it for this month.

Besides, a borrowed book on my shelf for a year feels wrong.

In The Enemy, all people aged sixteen and above have succumbed to a disease that turns them into flesh-eating monsters. Only the children are left and several have made it into some safehouses, banding together using their own abilities to survive in a bleak world. One of these groups of kids were the Waitrose kids, led by Arran and Maxie, who has lived in an abandoned grocery in the last few months. Food and important resources are already scarce, and the kids are already losing hope. Until one day, a kid in a colorful coat (made from contemporary fabrics and the like) comes and invites them to join him to Buckingham Palace, where another group of kids are living and are successful in creating a new life for themselves. The kids decided to go with him, but will their lives really change for the better once they get to the palace?

The Enemy starts of with action and doesn’t really leave that kind of mode until the end. Which is good, because it kept me on my toes and had me biting my fingernails for whatever else could happen to these kids. Other people warned me not to get attached to any of the characters in the book because the author kills them — and it is true. Boy how true is that. This makes for a very gripping read because you just never know who would die and how, and you never know who are the bad guys really are.

I also really liked Small Sam’s story — I think I was rooting for him the most! I like how his story paralleled the others, and where he got to. The subway (or to be appropriate, the tube) scene in the dark reminded me of a similar scene in The Dark and Hollow Places, and it truly got me worried for him and how he would get out of it. There’s also a hint of cannibalism in the story and I have to admit that it got my stomach churning uncomfortably there.

With all these positive things, though, I have to admit that I wasn’t that invested in the story. That, and I was partly grossed out for some reason. Maybe I’ve turned soft and my stomach isn’t as adept as handling zombie gore anymore. There were several times I felt like gagging while reading the book, and I couldn’t handle reading it while eating. With that, I didn’t really feel like I was glued to the pages. True, the story had all sorts of action and it made me fear for the characters, but my overall feeling in the end was, “Okay, finally that was done.” I only really wanted to see how it ended, but I didn’t care that much as compared to the other zombie novels I read and loved. My friends who have read this all sang praises to this…but I’m afraid I’m more on the lukewarm side.

Now that I think about it…maybe I have turned soft. :O

Nevertheless, The Enemy is still one of the better written zombie novels out there, and it’s a good read especially for those who like more gore than the usual. If you want to read a book about survival, a bit of politics and the undead, then his Higson book is for you. What’s more: its sequel, The Dead, is already out so you won’t have to wait too long to know what Charlie Higson had in mind when he thought of a post-apocalyptic world.

Rating: [rating=3]

Required Reading: FebruaryMy copy: borrowed from Aaron

Other reviews:
The Book Smugglers
I Am Pinoy Peter Pan
Attack of the Book